Tomorrow is Easter, which prompts one to think about “resurrection,” something I prefer to conceive of as a metaphor. Having cheated death twice thus far, if I were a cat, I guess I’d have seven lives left.
Are you familiar with the work of Edward Said? (b. 1935) He was a stimulating, often controversial thinker. His first book “Orientalism,” which came out in 1978, said that virtually all Western scholarship on eastern cultures was the product of paternalistic, imperialistic political interests, therefore suspect, if not downright inaccurate. Something to think about. He was also strongly pro-Palestinian state, and a harsh critic of American foreign policy.
A dedicated amateur pianist, Said often played four-hand music with his good friend Daniel Barenboim. The two of them founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999, with children from Israel, Palestinian territories, and other Arab countries. Children cross heavily militarized ground, at great peril, to rehearse with each other, offering an example of harmony to their fractious parents.
Anyhow, Said died of leukemia in 2003, twelve years after his leukemia diagnosis. “I don’t think that I was ever consciously afraid of dying, though I soon grew aware of the shortage of time,” Said said. Aware of the shortage of time.
His last book “On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain” (2006) is a thoughtful examination of the concept of “lateness” manifested in composers and writers. In typical Said style, he doesn’t really arrive at a conclusion, often voicing contradictory positions. But that is the professor in him; he forces us to think for ourselves and (perhaps) to reconcile opposites.
Is “lateness” a serene acceptance of the inevitability of death, dissolution? Or does it contain a “rage” or struggle with as yet untamed elements? He finds plenty of examples of both.
For me, the best sentences in the book, ironically, come from the introduction, written by Michael Wood, a literature professor at Princeton. “Death sometimes waits for us, and it is possible to become deeply aware of its waiting. The quality of time alters then, like a change in the light, because the present is so thoroughly shadowed by other seasons: the revived or receding past, the newly unmeasurable future, the unimagined time beyond time.”
© 2011 by Frank Daykin, for Innovative Music Programs